Tuesday 29 October 2013

Mass media addiction and its cognitive consequences


Mass media addiction has been bad for many decades and continues to get worse since the advent of the internet and social media (these having amplified the mass media by orders of magnitude, rather than displacing it as some once assumed or hoped).

The mass media controls society, but nobody (no person or specific group of people) controls the mass media.


Most people in modern societies cannot go cold turkey and simply stop their exposure, because the mass media is unavoidable - it shouts for attention from every computer screen and communication device, from posters and bill boards, in the conversational topics of the people around us.

All we can do is cut-back and cut-back until (with luck) a point is reached when we begin to emerge from under the cloud, become somewhat independent again - but even this is a constant fight against being distracted, attracted, drawn-in and again addicted. Withdrawal must begin again and again.

The most profound truths, the most lasting experiences, the most precious memories are swept away like a drop of crystal water in a daily torrent of polluted effluent - for someone unresistingly, enthusiastically to consume the mass media is like standing in the path of a burst dam with your mouth wide open and where the deluge just goes on and on, and on.

But the fact that most of the output of the mass media is a pollutant is not the worst problem; the worst problem is that the mode by which the mass media communicates become habitual - until it becomes very difficult to think in any other fashion.

The worst problem is that by consuming a lot of the mass media for a lot of our lives, we are entrained to its cognitive mode; that mode becomes habitual, normal - and eventually unavoidable. Ultimately, we cannot think otherwise, but only in the way that the mass media thinks.


The mass media is a language that imposes exclusions, has rules; the exclusions include all objectivity - such that everything is a matter of opinion, a personal point of view; and the rules are those of emotions - attention, excitement, interest, boredom, happy and sadness...

The mass media is therefore necessarily a flickering kaleidoscope of impressions that evoke feelings; the mass media are therefore essentially relativistic - not in terms of asserting the validity of relativism (which would be self-refuting), but in terms of its cognitive style.

Therefore, the reason for the deadly relativism of modern societies is not that radical philosophers have convinced people of the validity of relativism; but because relativism is the cognitive mode of the mass media, and people are habitually entrained to think and reason the way the mass media thinks and reasons.


Even when the mass media is asserting objectivity, then in practice (and without any justifying theory) it can be, and usually will be, in a moment be undercut by simply starting something else.

(Those amazing words 'and now...' which were noted by Neil Postman as used to join up whatever happens to be in the new on a particular day.)

Every statement is thereby retrospectively reframed as opinion - and confronted by another opinion. The mass media presents only opinion, and everything is treated by it as opinion - as and when necessary.


Opinions can - in principle - be ranked by the heirearchical authority of the opinionator; then re-ranked by another criterion; and again and again.

While being presented, each and any opinion displaces all alternatives; then something else is presented, and that overwhelms all alternatives.


In this respect the mass media exemplifies the nature of modern societies in which social functions are divided without the over-arching unification system of religion - which potentially comprehends, explains and regulates all other functions.

Yet the media is not without its over-arching system - that over-arching system is New Leftism or Political Correctness, and it is not a centripetal system but a centrifugal anti-system. In other words, the ideology which connects (but does not bind) all the strands of the media is the ideology of opposition.

Opposition to what? Opposition not so much to the natural, the common-sensical - to legitimate authority; but rather opposition to the very reality, the categories themselves of the natural, common-sensical, legitimate, authoritative or any other such principle.

The very cognitive structure of the mass media makes any such concepts meaningless - instead of structuring reality they become objects for examination, discussion, challenge, using and discarding - then maybe taking up again.


Therefore the modern Western mass media as it now operates is not a tool which could, in principle, be used to propagate a variety of political ideologies; rather the modern mass media is of its essence a Leftist phenomenon, THE Leftist phenomenon - a phenomenon, that is, of opposition to Christianity and to transcendental Good - because Christianity and The Good cannot operate if treated in practice and necessarily - by the very structuring mode of the media - as opinions.



JP said...

OT -- Putin's remarks are worth reading.


"Another serious challenge to Russia's identity is linked to events taking place in the world. Here there are both foreign policy and moral aspects. We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilisation. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.

The excesses of political correctness have reached the point where people are seriously talking about registering political parties whose aim is to promote paedophilia. People in many European countries are embarrassed or afraid to talk about their religious affiliations. Holidays are abolished or even called something different; their essence is hidden away, as is their moral foundation. And people are aggressively trying to export this model all over the world. I am convinced that this opens a direct path to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis.

What else but the loss of the ability to self-reproduce could act as the greatest testimony of the moral crisis facing a human society? Today almost all developed nations are no longer able to reproduce themselves, even with the help of migration. Without the values ​​embedded in Christianity and other world religions, without the standards of morality that have taken shape over millennia, people will inevitably lose their human dignity. We consider it natural and right to defend these values​​. One must respect every minority’s right to be different, but the rights of the majority must not be put into question."

Wm Jas said...

The mass media controls society, but nobody (no person or specific group of people) controls the mass media.

Are you sure? I think most Westerners would have no problem identifying a very specific group of people that controls the mass media. (Even those who disagree will know exactly which group I am referring to, which shows how widespread this understanding is.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - The point does not, of course, hinge upon some kind of empirical investigation - but on the fact that something so incomprehensibly big, dispersed and continuously productive as the mass media, which keeps growing so fast - isn't the kind of thing that could be controlled (except for the main exemplary story/s of the day, where any departure from political correctness may be aggressively punished - even there is it hard to pin down).

Matias F. said...

Is this systems theory? Then it could be said that the mass media works against social differentiation, which according to Niklas Luhmann was so important for a rational organization of society, and tries to make everything follow the standards of mass media.

Then it follows that structure or differentiation can not be created via the mass media, but only working independently of the mass media.

Bruce Charlton said...

@MF - It isn't systems theory - but I have presumably carried-over some of that way of thinking from my pre-Christian and pro-modernization days


From the Luhmann perspective - which is a secular Right perspective - the main problem with Leftism is eactly the kind of de-differentiation which has gathered strength and spread in scope since the mid 1960s - with all social systems being brought under the Leftist political ideology, hence necessarily less efficient at their primary function.

For example, when Leftism re-takes the economy you get a centrally 'planned' command economy (long since in place in the UK, just being introduced in the US); when Leftism is put over science you get the suppression of knowledge about intelligence and the creation of pseudo-science like Lysenkoism and Anthropogenic Global Warming Tackle Climate Change; when Leftism is put above Law, then you get Hate Crimes.

Thus more and more of modern life is nonsense, except in the light of the ruling ideology.

But there is not a symmetry between the ruling ideology of an olden theocracy, and the ruling ideology of secular Leftism - because Leftism is not cohesive but anti-cohesive.

So we are in the psychotic situation that the main thing which causes modernity to cohere is the main thing which is destroying its cohesion - viz The Mass Media.

Anonymous said...

'The worst problem is that by consuming a lot of the mass media for a lot of our lives, we are entrained to its cognitive mode; that mode becomes habitual, normal - and eventually unavoidable. Ultimately, we cannot think otherwise, but only in the way that the mass media thinks.'

The MSM/mass media have indeed been weaponised against civilisation.

However, I think your analysis rather avoids the unfortunate reality that; in the end heroin addicts deserve to be addicted. Alcoholics deserve to be alcoholics and people who decide to sit in front of the television every day of their lives deserve to be boring soulless, unhappy mindless etc.

It's tough but it's true.

No-one can be enslaved unless they submit to enslavement.

If everyone reading this can identify the mass media as corrosive and dangerous; then why do English parents hand over their children to the television from the earliest age? Then the i-phone?

We can escape the gravitational pull of degenerate MSM, are we so special.

Surly, to analyse the mass media and it's social effectiveness we must equally ask questions of those who would welcome such effluent into their minds every single day. Year after year.
The sort of people who sit with their children to view soap operas.

We can 'understand the danger' of the mass media all we wish, but with a People like this; if it's was not the television/entertainment industry, then it would most certainly be something else...perhaps something worse.

I used to despise the British political party system.
eventually it dawned on me that with The Great British Public, really, no decent politician could ever emerge or survive.

Similarly, decent people simply do not give i-phones to their young children nor leave them alone on 'social networking' sites.

Less and less I find it useful to blame the 'MSM' or 'the system' or 'political correctness' or whatever....

Let's tell the truth about the individuals who nurture and maintain these abominations. They are all around us every day and no-one is holding a gun to their head.

John Richardson